HMS Vindictive (1918)

HMS Vindictive was a Royal Navy warship built between 1916 and 1918. Originally designed as a Hawkins class heavy cruiser and laid down under the name HMS Cavendish, she served in several different roles and underwent several conversions in a remarkably varied career that lasted until she was scrapped in 1946.

Design and construction

The design of the Hawkins class cruisers was finalized in late 1915 and four ships were ordered in December of that year. The fifth and last was ordered in April 1916. As all the class were named after famous Elizabethan seafarers, this fifth ship was named HMS Cavendish after the adventurer and circumnavigator Thomas Cavendish. She was laid down at the Belfast yard of Harland & Wolff in July 1916. Following the promising flight trials aboard HMS Furious in 1917, the Admiralty decided that Cavendish should be converted and completed as an experimental aircraft carrier. She was therefore redesigned with a hangar on the forecastle with capacity for six aircraft which could be hoisted through a hatch to the roof, which formed a flying-off deck. This was connected by catwalks to a landing-on deck constructed abaft the funnels, while buffer nets prevented overruns that could have collided with the superstructure. The original cruiser armament was reduced to four 7.5-in guns. Cavendish was launched on 17 January 1918. In June 1918 she was renamed Vindictive, since it was desired to perpetuate the name of the old Arrogant class cruiser Vindictive which had distinguished herself in the Zeebrugge Raid of April 1918 and had been sunk as a blockship at Ostend in May.

As aircraft carrier

The modifications had made the ship lighter than the rest of the Hawkins class, at 9,394 tons light displacement. Vindictive completed for trials on 21 September 1918 (ahead of the four other Hawkins class ships) and achieved a trial speed of 29.12 knots with power of 63,600 shp. She commissioned on 1 October and proceeded to Scapa Flow to work up, joining the fleet in the Firth of Forth only a few days before the Armistice. Her first (and apparently only) deck landing did not take place until November.

In July 1919 Vindictive was dispatched to the Baltic Sea with 12 aircraft to support the British activities in the Baltic in support of the White Russians and independent Baltics states. The principal concern was the major Bolshevik naval base at Kronstadt, which protected Petrograd. On 6 July she ran aground on a shoal near Reval at 15 knots and after more than a week was towed clear by tugs and two other cruisers. On 17 August–18 August 1919, eight aircraft flying off from Vindictive carried out bombing and strafing attacks on gun and searchlight crews protecting the naval base. This diversionary raid distracted the defences and enabled Royal Navy Coastal Motor Boats to attack naval vessels in Kronstadt harbour. As a result, two battleships and the submarine depot ship Pamiat Azova were sunk. Vindictive remained in the area until December acting as a 'mother ship' for aircraft and the CMBs. She paid off into reserve on 24 December 1919. Her damage from grounding required extensive repairs at Portsmouth Dockyard at a cost of £200,000. The Admiralty had decided to abandon the idea of separate flying-off and flying-on decks in favour of flush deck carriers, and thus Vindictive was already obsolete in her brief carrier role.

As cruiser

The flight decks were removed and Vindictive was reconfigured back to a cruiser in 1924. Her appearance still differed from that of her half-sisters in the Hawkins class as she retained a large hangar as accommodation for four aircraft plus a lattice-type handling crane, and her main armament was six 7.5-in guns to their seven. In the Autumn of 1925 she became the first Royal Navy cruiser with aircraft catapult gear: her first catapult launch was on 31 October. She served on the China Station until August 1928, then joined the Atlantic Fleet. On 23 July 1929 she suffered an explosion in a gun at Chatham Dockyard in which one man was killed. She paid off into reserve on 30 December 1929. The catapult was then removed. Between 1930 and 1933 she was recommissioned four times in order to make trooping voyages to Hong Kong, each round trip taking up to six months, and was then in reserve apart from appearing at the Silver Jubilee Naval Review at Spithead in July 1935.

As training ship

In 1936-1937 Vindictive was converted to a training ship for cadets. The work involved the removal of two sets of machinery and the after funnel, and the construction of deck-houses for accommodation and lecture spaces for 200 trainee officers. The aircraft crane was retained. Her armament was reduced to two 4.7in guns. In this form (as illustrated) she displaced 9,100 tons and was capable of a maximum speed of 24 knots.

As fleet repair ship

Between the summer of 1939 and March 1940 Vindictive was converted once more, as a fleet repair ship, her seaplane crane and lecturer spaces (easily convertible to machine shops) proving assets. In this role she had a standard displacement of 10,060 tons (full load 12,250 tons) and an armament of six 4-in AA. She served in the Norwegian Campaign with the Home Fleet, then in July 1940 she transferred to Freetown, South Africa, serving in the South Atlantic until December 1942. She then moved to Mers el Kebir for a stint in the Mediterranean Fleet until 1944.

As destroyer depot ship

She was converted to her final role at Malta in 1944, departing Malta on 15 October 1944. By December she was serving the flotillas of the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. She paid off into reserve in June 1945 and was scrapped at Blyth in February 1946.



  • Jane's Fighting Ships of World War One (1919), Jane's Publishing Company
  • Roger Chesneau, Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present, Arms & Armour Press, 1984. ISBN 0-85368-636-X
  • Allan Raven and John Roberts, British Cruisers of World War Two, Arms & Armour Press, 1980
  • Whitley, M. J., Cruisers of World War Two, Brockhampton Press, Great Britain: 1995. ISBN 1-86019-874-0

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